This month, EARS is privileged and honored to meet with quite possibly the finest and best known mastering guru on the planet, Mr. Bob Ludwig. Having garnered many multiple Grammy and TEC awards as well as hundreds
of Gold and Platinum records, he operates Gateway Mastering in Portland, Maine specializing in audio mastering and DVD authoring. Bob has graciously taken time out of his busy schedule to meet with EARS via the marvel of skype for an evening of revelry, mastering lango, and an insight on his personal philosophy about record production and mastering. EARS is so
very fortunate to welcome this industry icon as our special guest.
Bob Ludwig began his professional career in 1967 at A&R Recording as an assistant engineer working with Phil Ramone, Roy Halee (who worked there for a short time), Don Hahn, Roy Cicala, Shelly Yakus, Elliot Scheiner and other A&R Recording staff engineers. Bob learned the art of vinyl record mastering at A&R with Mr. Ramone as his mentor. He started on the fixed-pitch mono Neumann lathe and worked his way up to the first stereo Neumann computer controlled lathe owned by an independent studio. He was the first engineer in North America to audition the revolutionary SX-68 cutter head Steve Temmer brought over from Germany. His first big single was “Kentucky Woman” by Neil Diamond.
Gateway Mastering Studio. Mastering Console by spl, "Ivy" audiophile speakers by EggelstonWorks..
He moved to Sterling Sound, Inc. shortly after it's incorporation in 1969 and became Vice-President. Sterling was the first mastering facility in the Western Hemisphere to use the new solid state Neumann mastering electronics with Telefunken M-10A and Studer tape machines. They were also the first to use VMS-70 lathes and then the powerful SAL-74 cutting electronics with the SX-74 cutterhead. Bob cut many famous records at Sterling including Led Zeppelin II, Houses of the Holy, Jimi Hendrix, most of The Band’s well known albums and many others. Probably due to producer Paul Rothchild’s insistence that Bob master Janis Joplin’s new single, “Me and Bobby McGee” for Columbia, they revised the way their Union rules applied and Bob became the first independent, non-union engineer to cut lacquers for CBS records.
(1) In 2003, Gateway Mastering was completely rewired by Transparent Cable Company. The new components required thousands of feet of additional cable. (2) The centerpiece of the upgrade is a custom designed SPL MMC1 analog 8-channel mastering console and insert switcher. "The MMC1 sounds fabulous – my clients are surprised that my room could sound even better than before. I’ve never heard a mastering console as musical as this one.”--Bob Ludwig
After 7 years at Sterling Sound he moved to Masterdisk Corporation where he was Vice President and Chief Engineer. He continued mastering many hit records including U2, Phil Collins, Sting, The Police, Bryan Adams, Barbra Streisand etc. As Chief Engineer, Bob continued being involved with many firsts. Bob cut his first album from a Soundstream digital recorder for Telarc in 1978. Masterdisk was one of the original 3 mastering companies that commissioned Neve to produce the first all digital mastering console. In 1987 Bob was one of the first engineers to master using speakers designed for audiophile use, the Duntech Sovereign. Today, most mastering studios use audiophile speakers including John Dunlavy (Sovereign) designs. Masterdisk took delivery of the first CDR-90 Compact Disc Reference System in America, which was the first practical recordable CD system (1989). The system incorporated the Sony 1610 as a playback source along with special PQ Senior software developed by Harmonia Mundi. Masterdisk became one of the few mastering studios in the US to own the Teldec/Neumann DMM (direct metal mastering) lathe where for the first time one could cut directly into a copper substrate instead of a lacquer acetate. These coppers could be used as “Fathers” to electroplate “Mothers” and “Stampers” and eliminated the difficult silvering process that was the cause of so many ticks and pops on vinyl pressings.
“Mastering” evolved during the days of vinyl, when the translation from analog tape to the vinyl disc and the inherent physical challenges that entailed, became a specialty. It soon became evident that all translations from source media to consumer media could use some attention and care. Mastering can enhance and preserve the sound quality in different playback scenarios.
Since the mixing process is such a different focus, and is usually a time consuming process for all involved, it’s helpful to have a new perspective on how the project sounds. The mastering engineer has the knowledge of what can be changed or amended from the mixed stereo or 5.1 tracks. They are focused on the final touches.
(1) Adam Ayan, protégé of mastering guru Bob Ludwig. Adam’s diverse list of credits includes Nirvana, Madonna, Foo Fighters, Carrie Underwood, The Rolling Stones, Incubus, Nine Inch Nails, Sarah McLachlan, and Rascal Flatts, to name a few. (2) Adam's mastering suite at Gateway.
-- The following article from Bob Ludwig on first working with Bob Clearmountain... (If you will recall, Mr. Clearmountain was our honored guest in May, 2010 and coincidentally mixed several of the records displayed at the top of this page. Go figure...!)
Bob Clearmountain, EARS meeting at Space, May 2010
"The first project I mastered for Bob (Clearmountain) was a 12-inch dance mix of the Stones' “Miss You.” I was at Masterdisk, and Bob's reputation as a young hotshot mixer preceded him. I put up his mix and — holy cow! — I'd never heard anything like this before. In my opinion, Bob created a whole new way of mixing, and there was a period of time in the late '70s, early '80s where every engineer tried to match his style. Bob was chief engineer at Power Station when they opened, and they only had Altec 604E monitors. Bob found these NS-10Ms, so he brought them in, thought they were a little bright and put a Kimwipe® over the tweeter and mixed hit after hit. Engineers trying to copy him also bought the Yamahas and it became a de facto standard! When I think about Bob, the word “consistency” comes to mind. Time after time, excellence! When I get a project from Bob, I know it will be a pleasure. He is amazing, and now that he has his own room at home, his mixes have taken on another level of that sharp focus. People are still trying to follow Bob."
(reprinted from Mix Magazine)
THE LOUDNESS WAR -- GUNS 'N ROSES
--By Bob Ludwig, November 2008
Dynamics and quality WIN
the Loudness Wars
On Sunday, November 23rd...
The new Guns ‘N Roses record "Chinese Democracy" was finally released after many years of waiting and many millions spent making it. 14 different recording studios are credited. I was thrilled to have been chosen to master the album.
In October, when I first heard some of final mixes which were incredibly multi-layered and dense, I was surprised by two things: The mixes were so finally honed that doing the smallest move sounded like I had done a lot and also that adding the typical amount of compression used in mastering these days took the life and musicality out of the recordings in a big way.
The trial disc I submitted to the producers had 3 versions: The one I personally liked had no compression that was used just for loudness, only compression that was needed for great sounding rock and roll. Then, knowing how competitive everything is these days, I made two more masterings, one with more compression and another with yet more compression, but even the loudest one wasn’t remotely as loud as some recent CDs. Hoping that at least one of these would satisfy Axl and Caram Costanzo, the co-producers of the record, I was floored when I heard they decided to go with my full dynamics version and the loudness-for-loudness-sake versions be damned.
I think the fan and press backlash against the recent heavily compressed recordings finally set the context for someone to take a stand and return to putting music and dynamics above sheer level.
The dynamics vs. volume trade-offs include the act of simply turning your playback volume clockwise a little. True, when shopping the iTunes store your song may not blast out as loudly as other songs. When trying to impress the radio station PD it may be an issue if you don’t have the guaranteed attention this record deserves, however level on the radio broadcast is NOT an issue. As I have been lecturing to people for years, the radio stations are all in competition with each other and they all have devices to make loud things soft and soft things loud and indeed, I heard a critic’s review of Chinese Democracy on NPR and the song examples they played screamed over my portable radio. Even with the radio station compression you can still hear detail in the car… amazing!
I’m hoping that Chinese Democracy will mark the beginning of people returning to sane levels and musicality triumphing over distortion and grunge. I have already seen a new awareness and appreciation for quality from some other producers, I pray it is the end of the level wars.
A HERO'S WELCOME HOME:
This final bit of wisdom from our special guest this month, Mr. Bob Ludwig in his own words...
GEAR and PHILOSOPHY
A mastering engineer’s gear is like the artists palette. We have a great collection of gear that we know intimately. We have many different equalizers and compressors because their different sounds represent the “colors” of our acoustical palette. Mastering is a very creative process. It’s important to have the right gear at your fingertips to help work holistically and not spend time going from the right brain over to the left brain to work out a technical problem or figure out how to work a plug-in.
When I conceived Gateway Mastering Studios, my intent was to have world-class quality available in every aspect of the studio. By starting my business in Portland, Maine instead of a huge metropolitan area, I was able to build one of the best sounding studios in the world with one of the best monitoring systems available. No expense has been spared to create our facility and acquire the highest quality equipment in the world, but ultimately, great ears, experience, and technical abilities, set good mastering engineers apart from the pack. Our delight is to work with the world’s best artists and help them achieve their vision. You have to create an organic space in order to live in the music.
-- Bob Ludwig
EARS would like to congratulate and welcome our own Johnny K home from his jaunt out in San Marcos, CA where he has been hard at work producing the new record "TH1RT3EN" for MEGADETH at Vic's Garage Studio. We have it on good word that Johnny has been busy mixing the record here in Chicago at GROOVE MASTER RECORDING STUDIOS. Johnny K is the producer of hard hitting records such as Disturbed, Three Doors Down, Finger Eleven, Kill Hannah, Plain White T's, Simple Plan, Avenged Sevenfold, Fallout Boy, The Academy Is, Sum 41, and Mudvayne to name a few.
Our meeting will take place on the big screen at Johnny K's vast recording complex Groovemaster Studios, located at 1719 W. Clinton St. in Chicago. .... If you attend one EARS meeting this year, make it this one!